When people talk about the differences between BSB and WorldSBK the biggest talking point is the relative competitiveness of both. What are the biggest factors?
I’m a self confessed addict. There’s nothing better than sitting down on a Sunday to watch racing. It doesn’t matter what it is. Cars or bikes I’ll be sitting down to watch it. My earliest memories are of sitting down and watching Formula 1 and from when I started to watch World Superbikes and 500GP in the 90’s I was fully hooked.
Missing school on a Friday and watching practice sessions wasn’t a regular occurrence but it did happen on far too many occasions to be purely coincidental. I can still remember being a schoolboy and seeing British and American Superbike stars wild card, take pole positions and race wins. It was a magical time for Superbike racing when it was the biggest game in town in the UK and Ireland.
A lot has changed over the last number of years. The biggest change has been the divergence of rules and regulations in Superbike racing. By and large domestic championships and the world championship have started to gravitate towards the same regulations once again but there’s one outlier: British Superbikes.
The strongest domestic championship in the world is an absolute masterclass for any domestic series. In my view the DTM is the only national series that comes close to BSB in terms of popularity and stature. For a long time the DTM was bigger than the World Touring Car championship. It was a marvel of German ingenuity. It had fire-breathing cars that left you in shock and awe. It had some of the biggest names in car racing with a host of former Formula 1 drivers. It was big business.
The British championship has been the same over the last 15 years. British Superbikes has an incredible profile. Stuart Higgs and his team at MSV are rightly proud of what they’ve achieved. BSB is big business worldwide with a diverse fan base. It provides great racing on your doorstop in the UK with 13 rounds and from when you arrive until you leave there’s action all the way. It’s a credit to everyone involved and one that I’ve always enjoyed being involved in.
There’s also a misconception about BSB. The popular belief is that regulations are set up to ensure parity. That anyone can win on any given weekend. That the lack of electronics and other regulations ensure a competitive grid from top to bottom. If you hire the right rider you can win in BSB.
At Silverstone this shown to once again be the case. Josh Elliot was able to win his first ever BSB race for the OMG Suzuki squad. They hired a talented rider, Elliot is a former Superstock 1000 champion, and he rode magnificently at the weekend. We saw Yamaha, Suzuki and Ducati all competitive at Silverstone for Round 1. The formula clearly works.
However, that formula has a lot of hidden variables. There’s a lot of hidden away by different factors in both BSB and WorldSBK. The biggest factor is that the circuits are completely different. The bikes might be the same, by and large, but the demands placed on them are polar opposite at times.
Power or delivery?
There are two circuits that both series race at: Assen and Donington Park. With no electronics the BSB spec machines, with the same Pirelli tyres, are around a second a lap slower in qualifying or race trim.
Why is that? Do the electronics make that big of a difference? In BSB there is a standard electronics package provided by Motec. It’s a very good system that allows for some great racing and showcases the talents of the riders. When we see TV footage or photos from BSB there’s no denying that they are utterly spectacular.
There’s also a reason why in BSB you can have those electronic packages. A modern Superbike produces somewhere in the region of 240 BHP. Do you need that amount of power a race track? Of course you do! The more power the better! That is until you think about useable power. Have a look at a video of Oulton Park, or Cadwell Park, or Knockhill. What’s the common denominator at those tracks? You’re not spending very much time on the straights. You don’t need 240 BHP. You need useable power because there are so few times that you’re full gas and trying to deliver as much power to the ground as possible.
Now think about WorldSBK and the tracks used. Qatar, Aragon or Magny-Cours are Grand Prix-style circuits that demand power and top speed. It’s crucial to have your electronics dialled in to make sure you can always deliver that to the ground. The demands on a Superbike in Britain are vastly different to those required in WorldSBK.
A fairer fight
On the world stage if you have a Honda Fireblade the chances are that you’re going to be thinking long and hard about how you can fight your way out of a paper bag. In the British championship you can come out swinging. The Honda doesn’t need to have close to maximum power in BSB. It needs to have a bike that can deliver power through the chassis and tyres and give a rider confidence. It can do that to a much greater degree on British circuits with limited electronics than it can with WorldSBK.
There’s a more level playing field because you don’t need to have your bike absolutely tuned to the maximum. Honda has had the chance to win races or have riders on the podium in recent years in BSB. The tracks play as much of a role in that as the regulations. Speaking to Leon Haslam, the reigning BSB champion immediately after his first test with Kawasaki in WorldSBK was quite revealing:
“With the WorldSBK bike the electronics figure it out for you so that’s strange and you need to change your style to adapt to the bike,” said Haslam. “Being on the edge of the tyre isn’t an advantage with this bike; you need to get it upright. You need to do the laps to make it natural but it’s also a lot easier to ride the GP tracks, they are bigger, wider and more flowing. There are straights! You’ve got anti-wheelie, TC so you’re not fighting the bike on jumps or crests, so it’s much easier physically. I did over 100 laps in one day and was fine.”
The electronics change the riding style needed, but because you’re not trying to fight and scrap with the bike across tight and twisty tracks, the rider is able to focus on those finer points. The tracks in WorldSBK force riders to maximise everything in their package. The tracks in Britain leave a margin for a rider to make that difference.
We could also see this with the Ducati Panigale V4R throughout this season. Alvaro Bautista has stepped from MotoGP to WorldSBK and is taking on all comers. Regardless of anything it’s quite clear that the Ducati has an advantage in WorldSBK trim. Bautista is riding magnificently, but even a cursory look at some of the battles through this season has shown the differences between the Ducati and the rest of the field. Scott Redding has made the step from MotoGP to BSB and with five years experience in the premier class it’s clear that he’s learned a lot of how to ride a MotoGP machine and that he has plenty of talent.
The BSB machine will come from Ducati Corse in the same specification for Paul Bird Motorsport as it does for customer teams in WorldSBK. The BSB team then makes their relevant changes. The bike will have the same power, more or less, although they have different exhausts due to noise restrictions, but in BSB because that sheer top speed and power isn’t as important the bike will be quite different.
We saw that at the weekend with Redding, and his teammate Josh Brookes, looking stronger in practice than in the races. This was down to a lot of factors, but a big factor was clearly that in practice you can pick your lines and ride the bike as you want. In races you’re fighting all the time and reacting to others around you. You might have someone in front of you or be forced to defend. The BSB riders weren’t able to take advantage of the power of the bike because of the tracks and normal effects of racing with someone. Their advantage was nullified by circumstances and circuit layouts. That won’t always be the case, but it was last weekend.
Which is better? Neither is better or worse. They are simply two different ways to skin a cat. The British championship should be a talent pool for WorldSBK. It was before and hopefully it will be once again. If you can succeed in Britain there’s nothing that should stop a young rider stepping up and proving themselves on the world stage. We’ve seen dozens of riders make that transition and have tremendous success.
WorldSBK is about maximising the package available to a rider. It’s about learning to work with a team and your crew. It’s about getting every last ounce of performance from you and the bike. If you want to win in WorldSBK you need the stars to align with the team, bike and rider. In Britain the rider can make a big difference. Hire wisely and your team has a chance.
If you’re a rider that’s music to your ears. If you’re a former champion - Troy Bayliss, Neil Hodgson, Leon Camier or Alex Lowes for instance - you take the lessons you learned in Britain and apply them when you’re racing on the world stage. If you’re good enough you can make the transition to international success - like Jonathan Rea or Cal Crutchlow - but think about those riders. All six of them are tremendously talented, like any other top tier BSB rider, but all six are also incredibly hard working.
Who are the riders that forge the closest bonds with their teams and spend the most time sifting through data looking for any advantage? You’d find a clear correlation amongst those names. There are lessons to be learned in BSB but there are also lessons to be learned from history. If you’re a young aspiring talent in BSB, a Bradley Ray or Tarran Mackenzie for instance, you’ll face a very telling season in 2019. With Haslam and Shane Byrne no longer on the grid this is a transition year. Is winning the title going to be enough or are you going to make the big step and prove you deserve your spot on the world stage in WorldSBK or the MotoGP paddock? Only time will tell but the clock is ticking on them all.
What’s the difference between me and you? Nothing...and everything.
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